Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Operation Return and Replace

How Do You Know?
All four were dead.  All helplessly, hopelessly dead.  No doubt about it.  Two were on the bottom upside down, and two were floating in the water upside down.  With the only sound being the gentle whirring of the air pump, these four fish had met their maker after only 2 hours after my son purchased them.  He was upset, to say the least, and I felt so bad for him.  However, I tried to explain to him that this happens all the time, and with just a hint of doubt he replied, "How do you know?"

You Don't Have Anything To Do
"How do I know?"  Ha!  Well, he kind of already knew the answer, but let me back up and tell you the beginning of this story.  [You knew a story was coming, right?]  When I was about nine years old, my dad purchased a pet shop in the small town in Texas that I'm from, and gave it to my mom.  Now, you're probably wondering why he'd do this.  Well, everyone else was wondering why he did this too including my mom.  Dumbfounded, my mom asked him why, he answered, "Well, now that Caroline is in school all the time, I noticed you needed something to do.  So, I bought you a pet shop."  Yes he, indeed, said those very words.  I was there, and I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been.  You know those big exaggerated dramatic pauses that everyone's always talking about?  Yeah, insert one here.  Can you believe the audacity of my dad?  Obviously, he hadn't run through this whole scenario in his head before saying it because if he had, he surely would've realized what an asenine reply that was.  "She didn't have anything to do?"  Oh boy, did he really screw that one up.  To top it off, my mom was never the "animal sort."  We'd always had a few pets, but she always made it clear that we had to take care of them.  What was mom going to do with a pet shop and a temporarily insane husband?

 What's Better Than Having Some Pets?
The pet shop came with snakes, birds, hermit crabs,  the largest selection of tropical fish in the area, and a 16-year old part-time girl who had been working there for a while.  Well, not one to back down from a challenge, my mother first sold all the snakes.  She hates snakes.  At the zoo, she won't even go into the snake house.  She was willing to give them away just to get rid of them, but she sold them cheap and threw-in all the supplies for free.  Then she employed me at the age of nine  [my second job in all my nine years].  I was in "kid heaven."  I walked there everyday from school with anticipation.  I mean, what's better than having some pets?  Your mom owning the pet store.  That's what.  I soon found out though that more "pets" meant more work. 

Remember When Stores Closed on Sundays?
The pet shop  ~named Pisces Pet Shop~ was open Monday -Friday from 10am - 5pm,  Saturday's it was open until 6pm, and was closed on Sunday's back when everyone was closed on Sunday's.  However, the animals must eat everyday, so we were there on Sunday to feed and clean.  A typical morning with birds included replacing the newspaper, the water with vitamins, the food [after blowing the chaff off], and making sure that each cage had a salt lick, a mineral attachment for sharpening beaks, and a sufficient supply of gravel.  [Huh?]  Small caged birds have a salt deficiency and they need gravel to keep in their craw to help digest food.  That whole "not having any teeth thing" can be a bummer sometimes. [You learn something new everyday, right?]  Not counting the annoying finches [a small bird], there were probably about 50 birds in all ~ parakeets, cockatiels, Love Birds, doves, and several different species of parrots.  Can you imagine the racket and the mess that they made?

Operation Seek & Dispose
After the birds came the fish.  There were, like, over 100 10-gallon tanks full of every species of tropical fish you could think of [and some snails, newts, and fresh plants], and 1 150-gallon tank that contained our huge Oscars.  Not only because of their name, which reminded me of a certain donkey, the Oscars were cool especially at feeding time.  In addition, to some packaged food, they ate those little cheap orange fish called Comets.  I always saved the Oscar's feeding time for last.  Call me gross, but there is just something about one bigger animal eating a live, smaller animal that is fascinating, especially to a nine year-old.  We also had these Siamese Fighting Fish, also called Betas.  They're unique because a male cannot live with another male, nor is it best that it live with any other fish.  Obviously, at some time or another, it must live with a female, but you usually see them in small glass bowls or jars all by themselves.  Why?  Because they like to their death.  Looking back, I can't believe I never put 2 together to test the theory.  Oh well.  As for feeding all the other fish, that was rather simple.  On both sides of the store, we had 2 rows [one up and one down] of aquariums running the length of the store.  I would open all the lids at one time, and then with fish food flakes in hand, simply walk the length of the store twice on each side and drop the flakes.  Then I would inspect each tank for two things: ick [which is a common fish illness], and dead fish ["Operation Seek & Dispose"].  I simply scooped the dead fish out and threw them away.  Yes, there were dead fish every day.  That's what happens to fish.  They live.  They eat.  They reproduce.  Then they die.  It's that whole "circle of life" thing.  For some fish it's shorter than others for any number of reasons.  Needless to say, I learned a whole lot about life from taking care of those fish.

Gorgeous 2 Bedroom Cozy, Unique Cottage For Sale
The hermit crabs were pretty simple: fresh food, fresh water, and  extra shells of varying sizes for when they outgrow their current shell.  Just between you and me, you have not lived until you have seen a hermit crab "move-in" to it's new shell ~ totally cool.

Who Really Had "The Thing" For Animals?
Eventually we added hamsters, gerbils, Macaws, other various parrots, canaries, rabbits, and whatever else my dad and I could talk my mom into.  You see, my dad didn't buy that dang pet shop for my mom.  He was the one with "the thing" for animals.  Even though he had a degree in Animal Husbandry [now Animal Science], I hadn't realized this until recently when looking through a bunch of old photos of his.  I don't have enough fingers and toes to count how many photos there are of my dad and various pets of his when he was growing up.  It was an "Ah-hah" moment for me.  Also, I've mentioned before that my dad's mom, my Paw Paw, raised and showed Siamese Cats, and there's a ton of photos of her and her prize-winning cats as well as ones of just the cats. It also explains all those Sunday bird-watching trips to the bird sanctuary while I was growing up.  Yes, we would spend the whole day finding and looking at birds.  [The things our parents make us do.]  And as for my mom, she "ran the shop" and the part-timer and I took care of and sold the animals.  Well, at least she had something to do now...on top of taking care of the home and all, that is.

RIP: They Lived.  They Ate.  They Reproduced.  They Died
Though I have more animal family stories to tell, the whole point of me telling you all this was to demonstrate that I do have a body of knowledge concerning fish.  I told my son to not worry ~ that this happens, that it wasn't his fault.  And then I explained to him my fish-feeding routine that I had everyday which included the special "Operation Seek & Dispose."  I told him I'd return them for him, and get some new ones.  He replied, " I don't want anymore fish if they're just going to die."  I gently explained to him that he can't live his life like that.  Besides the tank is set-up and the pump is whirring.  So last night, I revisited "Operation Seek & Dispose".  Now the 4 "deceased" are in a red Solo plastic cup leftover from the holidays which is inside a ziploc bag all sitting on my kitchen counter waiting to be returned.  Mission today: "Operation Return & Replace," which won't be the last time, I know.


  1. What fun childhood memories those are. And. How nice of your mom not to have kicked your dad's teeth in.

  2. What a great story. I don't think my mom would have taken it as well as your mom did!

  3. I love it! I love how you write. I sit here with my coffee and find myself totally absorbed and laughing out load. You have reminded me to listen to the whispers of inspiration at all times. Four dead fish = great story! Who-da thunk-it? :)

  4. I love this post, Caroline. I'm an animal lover, just like my mom was. When mom died 9 years ago, I adopted her ring-necked dove named Lucky. He's still here, happily residing with two cats and an aquarium full of fish.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful stories!


  5. Thank you! I'm glad y'all enjoyed this story, because I have many more family stories about pets coming up real soon. I agree with you, Herstoryan, "Who-da thunk-it?" Our ancestors are more like us than not. Along with the farm animals, they had pets, too. I wonder what their pet stories were?


  6. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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